Free Hetherington Votes to End Occupation


5th February 2011. Photo by Sean Anderson.

The Free Hetherington voted yesterday on a motion to accept the terms offered by University Management and end the occupation of 13 University Gardens. The vote was held as a result of negotiations between the Occupation and the University Management that have taken place over the past few weeks.

The terms offered by the University were summarised during the meeting and include:

  • No current plans for further course cuts.
  • No compulsory redundancies in the areas reviewed by the consultation panels earlier this year.
  • No disciplinary repercussions for those involved in the Occupation.
  • An agreement from Management not to volunteer information about occupiers to the Police.
  • The opening of a new postgraduate social space during academic session 2011/12.

The debate to accept or reject the proposals heard a range of views: from those suggesting that the University’s terms represented a series of promises that “they [the University] were going to do anyway”, to those that argued the terms were “huge wins” for the Occupation. Others argued that the Occupation was no longer viable as the numbers occupying the building had dropped to dangerously low levels; in recent weeks with only one person in the building at times.  Despite this difference of views, a consensus seemed to emerge early on in the discussion, described by one occupier as “the building is not the movement”.

Votes in favour of the motion seemed less to do with achievement and acceptance of the above concessions with University Management, and more to do with an acceptance of the Occupation’s lack of viability. One occupier warned against “fetishising” the building and suggested it  had become “a drain on movement”.

The vote in favour of exit was passed with a simple majority: 58 to 9. As the results were read out a wave of relief and jubilation swept the meeting. A number of speakers made heartfelt speeches about the what they had learnt from the Free Hetherington and what they believed the group had achieved. One Occupier even offered discounted ‘HRC’ tattoos to commemorate the Occupation. The meeting closed to rounds of applause. Tom from the Occupation said “After 6 months hard fought battle, […] today marks the legitimisation of active protest against austerity and cuts“ he also reiterated the groups intention to “keep protesting to support the right of students and future students to have equality and free education.”

However, others present wanted to strike a less triumphant tone. Sybil, 35, a postgraduate student, emphasised that some of their larger concerns had not been met by Management:

While what we have achieved is fantastic, the communities of Dumfries and Galloway are still losing their only higher education humanities faculty, the Crichton Campus’ Liberal Arts degree […] I am sad that we didn’t fight to at least open an inquiry into the illegitimacy of the [consultation] process.

-Sybil from the Occupation.

In terms of real gains it could be argued that the Principal had already confirmed a number of the terms offered before negotiations with the Free Hetherington even began. In an email to staff in June, the Principal announced that the University had “turned around” its finances and was forecasting a surplus over the next three years.

Although the University has promised no compulsory redundancies in the areas reviewed during the consultation process earlier this year, they didn’t rule this out in other areas of the University. In addition to this the voluntary severance scheme has been extended and some vacant positions are deliberately not being filled to save staff costs.

The new postgraduate social space mentioned in the University’s proposal will utilise space in the main building currently used by 1A the Square and the telephony room. Plans for the space are still to be finalised, however these include catering and licensed bar facilities open to staff and postgraduate students. The Students’ Representative Council will oversee the management of the space with support from Hospitality Services and the Senior Management Group.

The final details of how and when the Occupiers will leave 13 University Gardens are still to be finalised with University Management, however it is expected to happen within the next fortnight and well before Freshers’ Week.